How to wash jeans properly is one of the more mystifying undertakings when it comes to clothes maintenance. There’s so much varying advice out there – from putting them in the fridge to even wearing them in the sea – that it can become a nuisance working out how exactly you should take care of them.
To clear up the confusion, we’ve put together a clear, no-nonsense guide that has everything you need to know to keep your jeans in tip-top condition.
Should you wash jeans at all?
Some manufacturers recommend simply spot-cleaning your jeans between wears, provided they are not too grubby, so as not to degrade the fabric. You can definitely do this a couple of times, but once they do start needing a wash you can choose to clean them in a machine or by hand – neither will damage them so long as you follow any specific care instructions from the manufacturer.
How to wash jeans
1. Check your labels: not all denim items will have been dyed and treated in the same way, so it’s important to read the washing guidelines on each individual pair of jeans.
2. Turning your jeans inside out will help prevent them from becoming worn and losing colour.
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3. If you are washing your jeans with other garments, make sure you are putting similar colours together (e.g. black jeans with dark clothing).
4. To help prevent colours fading, choose a laundry detergent specially designed to keep colours vibrant. Washing inside out will also help to minimise fading.
How to hand wash jeans
Some people want to treat their jeans as gently as possible and so opt for hand washing. This cuts down on wear and tear and can help retain colour for longer. Here’s how to do it:
Start by using a sponge to gently spot clean any stubborn stains (if it's a tough mark to get out, try these easy stain removal hacks).
Plunge your jeans in a basin filled with warm water.
Add a cupful of gentle detergent.
Gently knead the jeans to wash them.
To give them an extra clean, leave them to soak for up to 20 minutes (for black jeans, soak them in water dosed with 100ml of white vinegar for up to 30 minutes).
Rinse in a basin of clean water, remove, and gently squeeze out the excess water using folding motions (do not wring them!).
While damp, stretch the inseam to prevent shrinkage.
Hang jeans and allow them to air dry.
How to dry jeans
Again, this is where you want to follow the jean care label, but as a general rule it is okay to run your denim through the tumble dryer. However, you need to be careful – keep it quick and at a low temperature. The jeans should still be damp when you take them out. Pull them into shape to prevent creasing and leave to finish drying on a hanger or lying flat.
Jean aficionados, however, swear that the only true way to dry denim is the natural way, out in the air. If you are really worried about colour fading, shrinkage or the material wearing out, then skip the dryer and hang them on a washing line or use the belt tabs to suspend them from a hanger.
The best way to wash black jeans
Black jeans require extra care, as without proper handling the colour can fade quickly. Mitigate the risk using the following method:
As with blue jeans, turn them inside out before washing.
Be sure to wash them on a cold setting. Here’s the trick: you want to add about 100ml of white vinegar, which will set the dye and prevent it from bleeding.
After the initial cycle with vinegar has run, repeat the cold wash cycle – this time using a laundry detergent that is specifically made for dark colours.
Your denim washing questions answered...
Putting jeans in the freezer: does it work?
For years, people have been trying to avoid washing their raw denim and preserve the colour by putting their jeans in the freezer overnight. The idea is that the chilly temperatures will kill off bacteria.
Unfortunately, your household freezer just isn’t cold enough to do that – some bacteria will remain and start growing when you wear the jeans again. It also won’t get rid of any dirt and grime that’s built up. So, when it comes to putting jeans in the freezer, probably best give it a miss.
Is it okay never to wash your jeans?
A lot of people think you should never wash jeans to preserve their unique colour and prevent fade marks. Whilst this is largely down to personal preference, be warned that just as with all clothing your jeans will start to smell after some time. We’d recommend washing them regularly (but not necessarily after every time you wear them)..
How often should you wash your jeans?
This depends on how much you wear them and what you are doing in them (heavy laboring in a dirty environment as opposed to idling in a coffee shop, for example).
As a general guide, wash every 10 days or every four to five wears. You can also check for yourself: look, smell and touch them – if they are saggy at the knee, have dirt stains or smell, it’s probably time to give them a wash.
What if your jeans do fade?
No matter how careful you are at washing your denim, it’s natural that fabric degradation will cause some fading. If that’s the case, and you really want them back to their original dark colour, then one option is to dye them.
The procedure isn’t difficult or expensive – you just need fabric dye, water and bleach – and you can do it by hand or in the washing machine.
Alternatively, if your jeans are at the end of their life, you can find them a good home by recycling them (find out how to recycle clothes even if no charity shop will take them).
Should you wash new jeans right away?
It’s not a bad idea to give brand new jeans a quick wash to prevent dye transfer. This is particularly the case if you have light-coloured furniture or will be wearing pale tops that come into contact with the denim (see our guide on how to wash new coloured clothes and prevent the colour from running).
Washing jeans will always cause them to shrink a little at first, so don’t panic if they’re a squeeze to pull on – they will return to their normal shape soon enough!